“Humbug”: What Makes an Unconventional Christmas Film?

Intro for December

I’ve seen enough Hallmark Christmas movies to know that Christmas is an absurdly strange season. The world might be colder and darker, but our movies get more optimistic and, dare I say it, jolly. This can have negative consequences, as people feel pressured to create a perfect holiday, like the ones they see in film. It’s especially difficult for parents who feel compelled to spend everything they have to foster a cinematic Christmas, perfect in every way. Unfortunately, Christmas movies are still movies, and its impossible to recreate their privileged scope. As a result, people end up feeling lonelier and more disappointed by the holidays, particularly the mismatch between what movies tell us should happen at Christmas versus what does. I often feel like I’ve failed at Christmas by not doing every winter activity, like going to see lights, pantomimes, parties, and other holiday events. I also get into this routine where I rewatch Christmas classics, not because I necessarily want to, but because it’s something you are supposed to do. I love the holidays and I love Christmas movies, it’s just that I end up thinking I need to do more next year. If only I hadn’t been busy with school. If only I hadn’t worked so many shifts. This year is obviously different, given that most activities aren’t happening because of COVID. Seeing as Christmas films are one of the only safe activities out there, I have been re-examining the kind of films I usually enjoy around this time of year.

“It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!”

I am not a particularly optimistic person, but I like films which disguise their optimism. Dark Christmas comedies are a good example of this, as they are hopeful and sentimental but also very forthright about how challenging the season is. Their characters generally hate Christmas, but over time, learn to appreciate certain aspects of it, like connecting with people and charity. I should mention, I am not Christian, so my favourite Christmas films are often nontheistic and focus on good will towards mankind from a moral standpoint, not a religious. I just don’t enjoy preachy films, and it so happens that Christmas movies often veer towards that. There are a few exceptions of course, where a really stirring speech feels sincere and non-exclusive, but there are also countless others where a speech like that comes off as naïve, unrealistic, and unmoving.

It’s hard to listen to a preachy Christmas speech when everyone in the film is a millionaire who lives in a huge house and whose biggest problem is finding their Christmas spirit. I feel like being told to find your Christmas spirit is like telling a woman to smile. It blatantly ignores that everyone is going through stuff and that their emotions are not designed for your enjoyment. Having a movie tell people to find joy in Christmas is all well in good, but these films mainly focus on privileged people, not those who suffer the most at Christmas.

Because Christmas occupies this extremely optimistic and privileged position, there has been a movement against ‘so-called’ classical holiday cinema. These movies are still a bit optimistic, but not as directly. They either focus on an anti-hero or they address broader socioeconomic issues, maybe even political kinds, through Christmas. For instance, some use Christmas to comment on capitalism, to unpack Christmas ideologies, or even the pressure felt by average families to create a perfect holiday. Christmas Dark Comedies are my favourite version of this anti-classical holiday movie. I enjoy them because they aren’t strictly nihilistic, but they are slightly more realistic towards those who feel rather ostracized by the season.

Since this is an untraditional year, I am going to focus my December blog posts on a few unconventional Christmas comedy films. Now that said, just because they are unconventional doesn’t mean they aren’t celebrated or well-known. I am not looking for depressing or obscure films, just ones which either comment on or reject that Hallmark nativity and naivety in a specific way, or ones which try to focus on anti-hero subjects who struggle with Christmas. These films often put themselves in comparison with other Christmas classics and suggest that they will do something different. They might end with the same optimistic message as these classics, but they do so in their own untraditional way. My goal is to spend the rest of this week focusing on Dark Christmas, the following week on capitalism, and then my final week (before I go on break) on the cynic turned believer model. Tune in to my ongoing COVID Christmas, and all its quarantined merriment.  

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